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Calcium, vitamin D supplements not associated with lower fracture risk

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Supplements containing calcium or vitamin D do not reduce the risk of bone fractures in older people, according to a research review.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it’s the latest research to raise questions over the benefits of calcium and vitamin D supplements.

The meta-analysis by researchers in China included 33 randomised clinical trials which compared supplement use (calcium, vitamin D or both) with placebo or no treatment for fracture incidence. The studies involved a total of more than 51,000 adults over the age of 50 who lived in the community rather than in nursing homes, hospitals or other care facilities.

The researchers found that the use of supplements did not appear to protect against hip fracture and other bone breaks, regardless of the dose or any previous history of fractures. There was no difference in fracture risk among people who received no treatment, a placebo, or vitamin D and calcium alone or in combination.

Dr Jia-Guo Zhao, a researcher in the department of orthopaedic surgery at Tianjin Hospital in China, said the findings showed that the supplements were not a substitute for leading a healthy lifestyle.

“It is time to stop taking calcium and vitamin D supplements for the community-dwelling older adults,” he told Reuters Health.

“The guidelines should be changed. We think that improving the lifestyle, getting enough exercise and enough sunshine, and adjusting the diet may be more important than taking these supplements.”

Natural sources of calcium include milk, cheese and other dairy foods, broccoli and cabbage, soya beans, tofu, nuts and bread made with fortified flour.

Vitamin D is produced by the body in reaction to sunlight and is also found in some foods, including oily fish, egg yolks, red meat and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.